The Remarkable Story of Harry Cook, Everton's 'Blind Masseur'

Gallipoli, June 1915 – in the searing heat of the Dardanelles British, Anzac and French Allied troops engaged in a doomed campaign against the Ottoman forces. 18-year-old Private Harry Cook came into close combat with the enemy: “I fired at the Turk: missed. The Turk threw back a grenade which exploded a yard or so in front of me. Everything went black – I was blind.”

This life changing moment would lead 18-year-old Harry on the road to a “hands-on” role in three Football League Championships and an FA Cup victory.

Richard “Harry” Cook was born in January 1897. Although he became an apprentice in a firm of printers and dyers, he turned out as an amateur forward at Clitheroe FC whilst dreaming of playing for Everton.

As The First World War broke out in July 1914, masses of young men signed up for the army and Harry was no exception. Within a month of the outbreak of War Harry signed up, like for many men with the East Lancashire Regiment – most famous for the “Accrington Pals” Battalion. Within a year be had lost his sight and was shipped back to England.

British attitudes to disability had moved on little since Victorian times and the loss of sight normally meant a future of struggle, poverty and isolation. Fortunately for Harry and others, the newspaper magnate Arthur Pearson had, upon losing his sight to Glaucoma, devoted himself to helping others in the same situation. He realised that blindness was “not an affliction but a handicap which... can be surmounted”. Thus was born St Dunstan's Hostel, in Regent's Park, where injured servicemen would receive support and training to overcome the disability. As Sir Arthur said: “My men are not blind, they are simply men without sight."

Upon his return to the UK, Harry was soon moved to the 2nd London General Hospital, Sir Arthur's preferred hotel for blinded servicemen. By September 1915 he was fit enough to come to St Dunstan's and embarked on courses in reading and writing Braille.

As well as care and training, the residents were encouraged to take part in sports ranging from athletics, to shooting rowing. With many of the men being keen football supporters it was natural that St Dunstan's sought to foster links to clubs. Fundraising collections were common at matches, including at Goodison Park, whilst blinded servicemen were invited to attend matches across the country. Arsenal forged particularly strong links with the Hostel and played blindfolded “shoot-out” matches against the “St Dunstaners” , In 1921 Everton accepted an invitation to visit whilst in London to play Chelsea on 21 February. Sadly a promise to return for a match in March, when in London to play Tottenham, never came to fruition.

Residents at St Dunstan's were encouraged to train for a new career that they could make a living without sight – these included shorthand typing, telephone operating, poultry farming, carpentry and shoe repairing. Harry would later recall a staff member taking a look at his hands and saying: “Massage for you my son”. Like many a St Dunstan's servicemen, he trained to become a “Blind Masseur” – what we would today refer to as a physiotherapist. Harry showed great aptitude in training, on a salary of £3 per week, before graduating in December 1916. Whilst resident at St Dunstan's Harry would fall in love with Kate Penfold,a nurse who treated him during his recuperation

With a job secured at Liverpool's Alder Hey Military Hospital, he returned home to live with his mother, within earshot of Goodison, at 30 Haggerston Road. In January 1919 Harry embarked on a post-graduate course at Liverpool University – in the theory of massage, practical anatomy and electro-therapeutics - alongside 13 sighted students. In the examinations at course-end, Harry came top with an average score of 90%.

Such was his success at Alder Hey that he was joined by 3 other St Dunstaners with whom he would eventually set up a successful partnership at 4 Hargreaves Buildings on Chapel Street. This ran until 1924 whereupon Harry set up a practice in Wallasey.

For Harry the shattered dream of playing for Everton had been superseded by a desire to work for them as a masseur. He wrote to the Everton Board in August 1923 offering his services. Having obtained glowing references, the Directors engaged Harry to work on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday and Sunday mornings for £2 2s 0d per week. “Blind Harry” – as he was known in the vernacular of the era – became a vital cog in Trainer Harry Cooke's backroom machine. He would accompany the squad on training camps at Buxton and to major matches through the 1920s and 1930s.

Harry was also a regular attendee at Goodison Park: “I never miss a home match at Everton, I always know what is happening through listening to the crowd, and feeling which way they are turning and swaying. I follow every movement on the field from the sound of the ball, yells of the crowd and the running commentaries, often for my benefit, from Harry Cooke.”

Such was his skill and memory that he came to recognise every player by touch, as he told the Topical Times in a 1937 article titled “The Man With Magic Hands”:

“A slight thickness of the ankles tells me that Dixie Dean is on the table.....Tommy Lawton has a longer shin bone that any of his colleagues. Joe Mercer has a slight curve in his shin bone; Albert Geldard has hairy legs!”

Gordon Watson would recall to David France that, in the 1930s, the players would attempt to trick Harry but he always recognised his “patient” – even an attempt to pass off the tea-lady as a player failed. “But ‘Blind Harry' claimed I that had the ugliest backside at Everton!”

As the 1933 Cup Final victory against Manchester City approached the team, with Harry, prepared for several days in Dorking. Although Harry was feverish with nerves he was struck by the sang-froid of the team – notably Warney Cresswell. During the match, he sat alongside the injured Charlie Gee who delivered a running commentary in clipped tones.

The rehabilitation of Gee, following a double cartilage removal, would become one of Harry's proudest moments. Despite a prognosis that indicated that Gee's career might be over, Harry worked on the knees on a daily basis at his Wallasey Clinic and, remarkably, the player returned to action within 13 weeks of the surgery – going on to play for England.

Harry married Kate at Emmanuel Church in Wallasey in June 1925 but there were to be no children. For his trips to Everton Harry would catch the Ferry, unaided, across the Mersey and then head to Goodison by public transport.

The Cooks became close with near-neighbours the Critchleys as Doris, daughter of Ted, recalls: “My Mother was very ill during her pregnancy and Kate looked after her, so when the time came to choose godparents for my Christening Mum and Dad both agreed that they could not have anyone better than “Uncle Harry” and “Aunty Kitty”, It turned out to be a good choice as they took the role seriously and saw to my religious upbringing. After my dear father ended his football career we used to go to and stay with them on the Wirral. I would have been about five or six at the time. I recall that when I came down for breakfast each morning he would ask me if I had done my "daily dozen" and would have me touching my toes and stretching my arms above my head twelve times; then he would take me into his surgery and give me a lovely massage. He and Aunty Kitty were such lovely people. Uncle Harry's personality was bubbly, always looking on the bright side of life, cheerful and very kind.”

In 1939, with Everton the reigning League Champions, hostilities in Europe brought a premature end to Harry's Goodison career. He continued in private practice, on the Wirral, before taking up a post in 1945 at Hackney Hospital in London.

Renowned for his kindness and cheerfulness, he often volunteered his services to the Hackney Boys Club and retained links with St Dunstan's via their Bridge Club. Tragically he would die within weeks of his retirement on 25 February 1961 – just hours after playing Bridge with friends. He was survived by Kate, who passed away in 1988.

And what became of St Dunstan's?

The charity has continued to assist people who have suffered loss of vision during, or after, military service. It is now known as Blind Veterans UK (www.blindveterans.org.uk) with a motto that Harry would have endorsed wholeheartedly: “Life Beyond Sight Loss”.

In 2007 Merseysider Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg lost his sight during fighting in Basra. The impact of a grenade shattered his left arm and sent fragments of burning shrapnel flying into his face. Craig lost his left eye instantly whilst his right eye was damaged beyond repair.

Blind Veterans UK stepped in and arranged a week-long rehabilitation course for Craig at their specialist centre in Brighton. The charity has gone on to provide a specially adapted house near his family in Liverpool and continues to offer assistance as required.

Craig has gone on to forge links with Everton in the Community, play international football for the England Blind Team, carry the Olympic Torch and scale Kilimanjaro. He has recently been learning to ski.

Acknowledgements/thanks:

Rob Baker (Blind Veterans UK)
David France/George Orr (EFC Heritage Society)
Jessica Talmage (Mary Evans Picture Library)
The Topical Times
The Everton Collection

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Eugene Ruane
042 Posted 30/01/2014 at 12:34:07
Thanks for this Rob (and all your historical pieces) really superb stuff. An incredible story about an incredible man.
Mike Gaynes
102 Posted 30/01/2014 at 14:50:26
Extraordinary article, Rob. You're a superb historian. Many thanks.
Nick Entwistle
104 Posted 30/01/2014 at 14:56:28
Love these articles. I hope the comparative lack of responses compared to the more typical threads on this site don't make you think they're not appreciated. First rate story telling.
Ian Tunstead
202 Posted 30/01/2014 at 17:29:05
Nearly brought a tear to my eye on a couple of occasion reading that. Brilliant stuff Rob. The film Gallipoli was one of the saddest films I have ever seen, accurate or not. It is clear Mel Gibson hates the British when watching some of his movies, especially Gallipoli, Brave heart and the Patriot.
Charles Brewer
253 Posted 30/01/2014 at 19:02:42
What a great story!

I wonder how many football clubs would be prepared to take on a blind man in any capacity, it's just another example that Everton is something rather more than just another sports franchise.

The other night my son and I watched the horrible Derby and I saw a banner amongst the inbred with some quote and a picture of Bill Shankly and I explained how badly Liverpool had treated the man who had transformed them from being a second division rabble into - well, a successful first division rabble.

As for Gibson... well,I reckon an insult from a racist, anti-Semitic, drunken, wife-beating, religious fanatic is something to be rather proud of. As a specimen of humanity, he's somewhere slightly beyond Suarez in the vileness stakes.

Andy McShane
281 Posted 30/01/2014 at 19:48:39
This was a fantastic article Rob. Articles like this show the depth of talent among the TW readers & contributors.

It puts Tuesday's disaster into context.

Brendan Connolly
375 Posted 30/01/2014 at 23:17:49
Can't really add to the previous excellent comments.
Well done Rob
Another fantastic article.

Regarding Nick's comments, I find it slightly sad that we're in a minority being genuinely interested in the history of the club.
But we can always 'educate' more Blues.

Mike Gaynes
381 Posted 30/01/2014 at 23:28:05
Brendan, the relative dearth of comments doesn't necessarily mean a lack of interest. Controversy and passion spark posts, but I think most TWers appreciate this kind of historical perspective even if they're not tapping their keyboards about it.
Brian Denton
383 Posted 30/01/2014 at 23:40:10
Exactly so, Mike. I always enjoy these works of scholarship, even though I only rarely comment on them.
Dan Durnin
389 Posted 30/01/2014 at 23:42:01
What a great read. Fascinating insight into a time when people's lives could be so cruelly changed in an instant, yet what a positive guy Harry Cook was. Thanks for the article Rob, inspiring stuff.
Ciaran Duff
407 Posted 31/01/2014 at 00:19:55
Great article ,Rob. Wonderful insight into another time and place.

What a fantastic attitude "Harry" had and hats off to Arthur Dunstan for his (no pun intended) vision which was well ahead of its time.
It's the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli landings next year (April 2015). The event is commemorated every year (ANZAC Day) in both OZ and NZ to honour those who gave their lives in that and subsequent wars. Probably fair to say that the portrayal of the British (in the film) was inaccurate. They had huge losses too as did the Turks (estimated as £200,000 on each side).

A couple of interesting asides 1) The overall idea for the campaign cam from Winston Churchill and turned out to be a disaster. 2) The Turkish resistance was led by Kemal Ataturk (founder of modern secular Turkey). His later letter to Anzac Mothers who lost their sons there is worth a read (Link)

Mike Gaynes
409 Posted 31/01/2014 at 00:59:03
Cheers, Ciaran... that's a wonderful bit of additional perspective. I'd read a bit about Ataturk being an old-fashioned statesman, and that's a remarkable letter.
Tom Hughes
480 Posted 31/01/2014 at 09:23:32
Yet another great article about our history and the great characters who helped forge it.
Steve Lundberg
547 Posted 31/01/2014 at 09:06:00
Brilliant story Rob and beautifully told.

The whole St Dunstan's concept back in the day really was revolutionary in terms of a lifeline for blinded servicemen.

As you'll know, over the years it grew from strength to strength both in numbers and in what skills it could introduce to the effected blokes.

Our very own Harry Cook was very much a pioneer of this and although not what he had envisaged for his life, it seems his future and involvement with our beloved Blues greatly enriched him and them.

I know first hand the positive effect of that rehabilitation in how it helped to transform and adapt Craig whilst giving him the utmost confidence without his sight, and which has inspired him to achieve things that he would never have sought opportunity to do.

And our very team was there for him in the dark early days whilst he was still in Selly Oak. I received a message from our then skipper, Phil Neville asking after his welfare and passing on good luck and best wishes from the players and staff.

Weeks later, Craig was invited to meet up with Phil and the team at Bellfield and the positive encouragement he received that day with a ball at his feet once more lead to his involvement with the Everton In The Community team and on to the development of their blind football team.

From there, and with the coaching staff, Craig worked on his ball control and built back up his strength and physique and soon was playing in the national blind league based in Hereford, where he subsequently was offered a scholarship as a blind footballer. He went on to represent Great Britain in numerous internationals and European championships and more recently a founder player with Merseyside Blind FC in the national league.

He has graced the turf of Goodison a few times and my most memorable occasion was witnessing him strike a penalty kick into the Park End goal :-)

In summary, I'm saying what a fantastic 'People's Club' we have and it's approach with how it embraces all people no matter what their affliction.

The Harry Cook story is an important example of just how long that has been the case, right up to this day and many thanks for writing it.


Joe Bibb
561 Posted 31/01/2014 at 12:44:32
Brilliant Rob all this history and more can be seen before every home game upstairs in St Lukes Gwladys Street where the EFC Heritage Society put on a display, sell old programmes tee shirts and other items to fund their research into the History Of Everton Football Club.

They have also linked up with Liverpool City Council, Everton Football Club, The Friends Of Everton Park to Light up Prince Rupert's Tower on Tuesday 4th February at 6:30pm.

The Tower is of course the emblem of EFC and it will be lit permanently with Blue Lights. Also on Monday 10th February the EFC Heritage Society along with Everton Football Club will be at Anfield cemetery at 2pm for the rededication of Will Cuff's Grave. All Evertonians are welcome to attend and pay their respect to a man fondly known as Mr Everton. More information about these forthcoming events can be had at St Luke's before the Villa game. Ask for Paul Wharton.

'If You Know Your History' is not just a song to the members of the Society it is a code for life...

Steve Carter
728 Posted 31/01/2014 at 22:05:52
Marvellous article, Rob. For those of you commenting on the matter, Mel Gibson was an Aussie at the time of the movie, and would have scripted it for the Australian audience. Gallipoli is a sacred site for Australians and Kiwis, and the general feeling is that 'the British' were to blame for the catastrophic loss of Australian lives on the peninsular. Really, it is upper class British toff generals and parliamentarians like Churchill who the invective is directed at; it is understood that ordinary British people like Harry were in the same boat as the Anzacs. Indeed, people like Simpson (and his donkey), who hailed from the NE of England, are regarded as secular saints by Aussies and Kiwis.
Bill Griffiths
062 Posted 01/02/2014 at 18:07:15
Very interesting and moving article. I agree with previous comments that no comments needn’t signify non-interest etc.

I always enjoy reading these and learning more about our history but never comment.

Rob Sawyer
054 Posted 14/02/2014 at 17:21:42
This article has been updated to included new info from Ted Critchley's daughter to whom Harry was godfather. I also learned that Harry married the lady that nursed him at St Dunstan's.

Thanks for the comments posted.

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